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Customer Effort Score simplified + how to measure it

Customer Effort Score is a metric that measures how easily customers get what they need from your company, from checking out to resolving an issue.

Par Court Bishop, Contributing Writer

Dernière mise à jour May 20, 2024

What is a Customer Effort Score?

Customer Effort Score (CES) measures the effort it takes for a customer to get what they need from your company—whether that’s resolving an issue, finding an answer to a question, or completing a specific action. The ultimate goal of CES is to provide customers with a low-effort experience.

Typically, companies determine their CES through surveys that ask buyers to rate the ease of their interaction on a scale of “very easy” to “very difficult.” A high CES indicates low customer effort or mostly easy interactions. A low CES score indicates high customer effort and, most likely, a lot of unhappy customers.

In today’s digital world of instant gratification, convenience is king. Movies, music, and meals are always just a couple of clicks away. Customers can now place nearly everything businesses used to offer in brick-and-mortar stores into their online shopping carts.

As the buying experience becomes more effortless, the customer service experience has to keep up. CES surveys reveal where your customers are getting frustrated so you can improve their experience.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to start measuring your CES—from how to calculate it to what questions to ask—so your business can take advantage of this powerful metric.

More in this guide:

What is a good Customer Effort Score?

It’s critical to remember that a high CES is a good CES, but also bear in mind that there isn’t an established benchmark or industry standard for CES. You’re only competing against your previous scores. Regardless, CES scores are important customer service metrics to track regularly.

If your CES is lower than you’d like and isn’t increasing over time, your support team should focus your efforts on answering the following questions:

  • How many different places did your customers have to go to find an answer?
  • Was the issue resolved after one ticket? Or did the customer need to reach out again about a similar or related issue afterward?
  • How long did it take to go through each touchpoint of the customer journey to resolution?
  • Were there processes or obstacles that got in the way of resolving the issue?
  • What were the resources, workflows, or skills that enabled a quicker resolution?
  • Do your agents have the resources they need to provide accurate solutions?
  • How are you currently tracking and implementing improvements based on customer and agent feedback?
  • How can AI tools, such as AI agents, lower customer effort?

By addressing these questions and getting ahead of any issues, you’ll have a jump-start on customer experience (CX) management and be able to fix experience issues before they lower your business’s CES.

Why does Customer Effort Score matter?

Three icons represent three benefits of measuring Customer Effort Score.

CES becomes powerful with context. By tracking the metric across support channels and interactions, you and your team can determine which experiences are seamless and which ones cause friction.

Your CES may suggest that most customers struggle with one action but not others. You also might discover that customers find it “very easy” to reach your contact center by phone but “somewhat difficult” to navigate the self-service options. This information can help you make the necessary adjustments to improve your customer experience (CX).

Helps forecast customer loyalty

According to Gartner, 94 percent of customers with low-effort interactions intend to repurchase compared with 4 percent of those experiencing high-effort interactions. If your customers find that they get positive results with your product or service—by using significantly less effort—you’ll earn a repeat customer. Good customer retention makes customers more likely to grow their accounts as your company grows. This means that it’s easier to scale your business and improve revenue alongside your customers.

For example, if customers report on your CES that they’re having difficulty finding an important software feature, you might consider editing the software’s toolbar. CES-based tweaks like this build customer loyalty and keep users engaged.

Measures customer support quality

Your customers should always find their interactions with customer support easy. Ask users CES questions about their experience whenever they interact with support. For example, you can end support calls with a brief survey, ask CES questions after customers visit knowledge bases, or automatically send a CES survey after a chatbot conversation to see how they perceive those interactions.

A high CES on this survey will help measure if customers find it easy to reach, understand, and follow instructions from the support team. These factors are important indicators of a positive customer experience.

Lowers costs

Gartner also found that a low-effort interaction costs 37 percent less than a high-effort interaction. Low-effort experiences mean fewer escalated requests, faster resolutions, and lower support ticket volume, which helps to reduce operational costs.

How to calculate Customer Effort Score

After gathering CES data, calculate your actual Customer Effort Score. Each response should correlate with a rating, with the lower end indicating a higher effort. For example, if responses range from very difficult to very easy, very difficult would be one point, and very easy would be five points. Here’s how you use that data to calculate CES.

Customer Effort Score formula

Generally, you can calculate CES if you divide the total ratings by the total number of survey responses. As we previously stated, if your responses aren’t numbered (for example, your customers choose an emoticon or emoji to reflect how they feel), then assign a higher value to positive responses and a lower value to negative responses.

The sum of CES ratings ÷ Number of survey responses = CES

If you’re using an emoticon/emoji scale, subtract the percentage of negative responses from the percentage of positive responses to determine your CES, ignoring neutral answers.

Percentage of positive responses – Percentage of negative responses = CES

Say you send out a survey, and 300 respondents complete it. Of these responses, 250 are positive, and 50 are negative.

First, you’ll determine the percentages of each type of response:

  • (250 ÷ 300) x 100 = 83.33% positive
  • (50 ÷ 300) x 100 = 16.66% negative

Now, find your CES by subtracting the negative percentage from the positive percentage:

  • 83.33 – 16.66 = 66.67

Types of CES questions

Customer Effort Score surveys are short questionnaires sent to customers to gauge how easy or difficult it was for them to complete a specific task. There are typically four types of CES surveys companies use.

Numbered CES survey questions

An example of what numbered CES survey questions look like to customers.

Numbered CES survey questions ask customers to rate their interaction on a numerical scale. These questions are easy to understand and quick to answer, so they generally have higher response rates.

For example, numbered CES survey questions might look like this:

Q: How easy was it to use [Product/Service Name]?
Q: How easy was it to follow directions from our customer support agents?
Q: How would you rate the difficulty of understanding our product tutorials?
Q: How easy was it to customize the product to your needs?

A: 1 (easiest), 2, 3, 4, 5 (most difficult)

Emoticon CES survey questions

An example of what emoticon CES survey questions look like to customers.

Emoticon CES survey questions ask customers to rate how an interaction made them feel using emoticons. These questions are the fastest way to gather feedback because respondents don’t need to read responses.

These types of questions can look like:

Q: How easy was it to contact our customer service team?
Q: How was your experience resolving issues with our new software update?
Q: How did your recent customer support experience make you feel?
Q: How would you rate your overall experience with the sales process?

A: 🙁 , 😕 , 😐 , 🙂 , 😀

You can ask the same questions in emoticon CES survey questions as in numbered CES survey questions. The only difference is that the user expresses their response via emojis rather than a numbered score. Emoticon questions might be helpful in situations where customers are in a rush—they’ll recognize that a smile is a positive response quicker than a “5” option.

Open-ended CES survey questions

An example of what open-ended CES survey questions look like to customers.

Open-ended CES survey questions ask customers to describe an experience in their own words instead of selecting from multiple-choice options. Although a customer on the go might skip this question, the responses tend to provide information that multiple-choice or Likert questions didn’t cover. Open-ended questions also tend to provide more actionable insights.

Here are some examples of open-ended CES questions:

Q: What’s one thing you would change about your experience with our company and why?
Q: What’s your least favorite software feature?
Q: Which product features have had the most significant ROI for your business?

Likert CES survey questions

An example of what Likert CES questions look like to customers.

Likert CES questions ask customers to rate a product, company, or experience on a predetermined scale. There are typically an odd number of options, so customers can choose a neutral choice and give more nuanced responses, going beyond positive or negative feedback. This structured approach simplifies interpretation compared to open-ended questions and encourages more insightful responses.

Some examples of Likert questions include:

Q: How easy was it to use [Product/Service Name]?
A: Very difficult, difficult, neutral, easy, very easy

Q: How helpful was our FAQ page?
A: Not at all helpful, not very helpful, neutral, helpful, very helpful

Q: How was your experience setting up [Product/Service Name]?
A: Very complicated, complicated, neutral, simple, very simple

Q: How easy was finding what you needed on our website?
A: Very difficult, difficult, neutral, easy, very easy

How to create an effective CES survey

There are a few factors to consider when you create a CES survey. These tips will help you gather more responses.

  • Time the survey right: Send surveys in the appropriate context. For example, don’t wait a few days to request feedback on a support interaction—send a CES survey immediately after the issue is resolved.
  • Send the survey via the right channels: Make it easy to take your CES survey. Send questions via channels with the highest customer engagement.
  • Leverage AI: Simplify how you send your surveys. AI agents can automatically send CES surveys for your company after each customer interaction, helping you gather more feedback.
  • Keep questions straightforward: Your customers aren’t mind readers. Ensure the language in CES questions is clear and precise so customers don’t misinterpret them.
  • Use neutral language: Leading questions aren’t ideal for gathering customer data. Questions like, “How do you feel about our awesome product?” impact answers and don’t provide accurate CES scores.
  • Set goals for your survey: Effective surveys start with a goal. You may want to understand the checkout experience better or strategize the best time for your customer success team to reach out. Start with a specific goal, then build your survey around it.
  • Consider an open-ended option: Open-ended questions let customers fill in any gaps your CES survey might not cover. Although open-ended responses can be more subjective, they add valuable context to your data.

If you follow these best practices, you’ll create better CES surveys and be able to measure the customer experience with fewer resources.

Uncover the customer service data you’re missing

Go beyond CES to see how your customer service measures up.

5 ways to improve your Customer Effort Score

Maybe you have done some digging and are looking for concrete ways to boost your CES. Try these tips to improve customer interactions and overall satisfaction.

1. Give agents AI-powered tools to delight customers

Create an effortless experience for your agents to offer the same to your customers. Providing your team with AI-powered tools will help make this possible.

Zendesk AI, for example, automatically summarizes tickets and customer insights (such as the customer’s mood) and suggests responses for agents so they can reply faster and provide better support. Zendesk also includes AI chatbots that offer 24/7 support, allowing customers to get immediate assistance around the clock. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2024, 51 percent of consumers prefer bot interactions over humans for quick resolutions.

Once you adopt support tools, collect and act on your agents’ feedback about potential improvements that could empower them to be more helpful to customers.

2. Practice solution-oriented support training

Regularly review examples of interactions as a team and see if you can collectively spot opportunities to lower customer effort. Call listening, for instance, is a great way to coach and train phone support agents. If agents feel uncomfortable sharing their calls, consider conducting this coaching one-on-one.

Here are a few other training tactics that could help improve CES:

  • Ensure agents are familiar with your products and services. Consumers don’t like being transferred from agent to agent, and they certainly don’t like waiting. So, it’s never a good strategy to put a customer on hold while your agent finds a more knowledgeable team member who can answer questions about your company’s offerings.
  • Give agents the authority and autonomy to solve customer issues. If support agents must consistently ask for permission to make decisions that will solve customer issues, it will cause bottlenecks and delays in the resolution process.
  • Empower agents with soft skills. Customers want to interact with friendly, supportive agents who will listen to them, solve their problems, and communicate effectively. Ensure your teams practice these soft skills, or risk decreasing your CES.

These tactics train agents to be more independent and handle issues better to improve customer satisfaction.

3. Offer self-service options

Are your agents often spending time working on password resets and answering basic invoice questions? Use AI-powered chatbots to handle common support requests instead.

Bots can answer most simple questions instantly, making interactions faster and more convenient for your customers. They also free up your support team—especially when combined with other self-service resources such as FAQ pages and knowledge bases—to assist customers with issues that require a human touch.

By reducing wait times and providing ample resources for customers to find solutions independently, you’ll eliminate unnecessary friction and empower your buyers to get the solutions they need.

4. Implement an omnichannel support strategy

Today’s consumers desire omnichannel customer service: the ability to get seamless and personalized support on their preferred channel. Delivering this type of experience is critical to lowering customer effort and increasing retention.

Our CX Trends Report found that CX leaders who report high ROI on their CX tools are 54 percent more likely to actively explore integration opportunities between the phone and digital channels to create a smooth omnichannel experience for their customers. Though customers prefer phone calls to resolve their complex issues, they turn to email and self-service support nearly as often as the phone to resolve general issues. This is why creating a system that supports multiple options is essential.

According to our CX Trends Report, CX leaders who report high ROI on their CX tools are 54% more likely to actively explore integration opportunities between the phone and digital channels to create a smooth omnichannel experience for their customers.

The unified Agent Workspace from Zendesk gives your team a single interface to manage customer interactions across every support channel. Agents can toggle between channels, so relevant context never gets lost. When agents have all customer information readily available in one workspace, it is easier (and faster) to take care of customer issues and personalize customer requests.

5. Dive into customer data

Evaluate customer feedback to better understand the reasoning behind their CES rating. If needed, follow up with buyers to ask about the difficulties they experienced when using your product or service.

Segment your CES data to identify areas for improvement, too. For example, comparing the CES for each customer service channel is a good idea. If customers find it “very easy” to get answers by calling customer service but find it “difficult” to use your help center, it’s clear which channel you should focus on improving.

You can also categorize your support requests by task, like “Account Creation” or “Shopping Cart.” If a task’s CES indicates that it was high-effort, analyze customers’ open-ended survey responses to determine where a roadblock may have occurred.

It’s essential to track this data proactively so you can spot large-scale issues and resolve them promptly before customers begin to churn. These insights also help you prevent problems from happening at scale and creating high-effort experiences for customers that cause them to leave.

CX metrics beyond CES to consider

Remember that CES isn’t the only way to gauge customer effort. Other customer service KPIs you should know include:

  • Customer satisfaction (CSAT) measures how positively or negatively customers perceive customer support interactions.
  • Net Promoter Score® (NPS) measures how likely customers are to recommend your product or service to others.
  • Agent touches measure the number of touches between your customers and agents on the same ticket.
  • Average handle time (AHT) measures how long it takes, on average, to resolve a ticket after a customer submits it.
  • Requester wait time measures the total time a ticket is labeled new, open, or on hold.
    First reply time (FRT) measures how long it takes for customers to get an initial response from customer support after they open a ticket.

Beyond these, there are other useful CX metrics to consider. Factors like how often the average customer opens a ticket or how frequently customers drop off calls can also inform your overall CX strategy. Decide which CX factors to measure beyond CES depending on which areas your CX team is targeting to help create a more informed strategy and meet customer expectations.

Frequently asked questions

Reduce customer effort with Zendesk

There’s a direct connection between agent effort and Customer Effort Score. Many tools that make life easier for your support agents also make life easier for your buyers. Customer service software like Zendesk enables agents to deliver support across the channels most preferred by customers, harness AI to offer faster and more personalized support, and leverage data insights to gain a deeper understanding of customer needs.

When agents are empowered to resolve tickets quickly and conveniently, the customers reap the rewards.

Net Promoter, Net Promoter Score, and NPS are trademarks of NICE Satmetrix, Inc., Bain & Company, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.

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